Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriters: Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell
Runtime: 113 mins.
Australian release date: 17 February 2011
In all good thrillers there are car chases and in Unknown, by the Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, there are a couple of pretty damn good ones. In fact, this is a movie where the skills behind the wheel are more thrilling than the plot, which gets off to a good start, but then falls into a mish-mash of ambiguity and preposterousness.
American scientist Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), arrives in Berlin with his wife Elizabeth (January Jones, the long-suffering trophy wife of Don Draper in TV's Madmen), to attend a biotechnology convention. When they reach their hotel, he discovers that he left his briefcase containing his passport and papers behind at the airport, and jumps straight back into a cab to retrieve it. En-route to the airport his cab is involved in an accident and crashes into a river. The cabbie, Gina (Diane Kruger), who we later find out is an illegal immigrant from Bosnia, manages to save the Doc from drowning but takes off before the authorities arrive at the scene.
Dr Martin wakes up in hospital a few days later. He is understandably surprised that his wife has not tried to find him and he leaves the hospital (without any mention of a bill!) to head off to the convention to find his wife. Once there the confused doctor discovers that Elizabeth does not recognize him and, in fact, is partnered with someone else. Thus he, and we, set off to find out what’s happened.
This is a real mystery/thriller which has all the elements of a post-cold war drama and yet has set out to change the way stories of this genre are told. There are some great scenes between Neeson and Bruno Ganz, who plays an ex-Stasi policeman, Ernst Jurgen, who Harris seeks out to help him prove his real identity. Jurgen has become a private detective, who prides himself on his great attention to detail - a skill that was learned in the ‘good ol’ days.’
Dr Martin also seeks help from the elusive taxi driver, Gina, who ends up playing a significant role in the at times thrilling attempts to get to the truth of the matter. These involve car chases, shoot-outs, sinister black four-wheel drives and the up-market and down-trodden sides of Berlin, ably captured by the Spanish cinematography Flavio Martinez Labiano.
The plot does get a bit hard-to-believe as it nears its denouement and there is a moment when you wonder how it is going to resolve. This can be a plus with a good thriller but a minus if you start to question the possibilities. The best way to enjoy Unknown is to just go along with it. The final twist, however, is worth the 113 minutes it takes to spill the beans.